Navy Opponent Preview: at Notre Dame

With a bye week just in front of them the Mids will travel to South Bend to take on old foe Notre Dame on October 10. The two schools know each other inside out and this should be another great matchup to add to this storied series.

2014 Record: 8-5 (Independent) – Beat LSU 31-28 in the Music City Bowl.

Series Record: Navy trails 12-75-1 in a series which dates back to a first meeting in 1927, which Notre Dame won 19-6. This is one of the more lopsided constantly played series in college football with Notre Dame having amassed a 43 game win streak over the Mids between 1964 and 2006.

Last Meeting: Last season’s meeting was a game which Navy could have, and probably should have, won. The Mids battled back from 21-points down, rumbled for 454 yards of total offense, but could not contain Notre Dame quarterback Everett Golson in the game which was his Irish career peak. Golson became the first player in Notre Dame history to pass for three touchdowns and run for three more as the Irish held on for a 49-39 win.

Head Coach: Brian Kelly is entering his sixth season as the Irish head coach with a 45-20 (.692) win/loss record. Kelly has been a collegiate head coach since 1991, first for 12 years at Grand Valley State, before moving to the FBS with Central Michigan and then Cincinnati.

Spring News: One story dominated in South Bend this spring and that was the quarterback competition. Golson had a crazy career at Notre Dame, leading the team to the BCS National Championship game in 2012 before being suspended for the entire 2013 season because of academic issues. Golson came back in 2014 and played well, but a disaster of a November, the Irish went 1-4 during the month, saw Golson splitting time with sophomore Malik Zaire (photo above) during the Music City Bowl against LSU. This spring neither quarterback separated from the other, but Golson decided in May to transfer to Florida State handing the reigns over to Zaire full time.

Projected Strengths: One strength that the Irish will be able to count on this fall is experience. Notre Dame returns 18 starters from a 2014 team which was competitive until November when they just fell off of the map. One of the big problems was that the team was simply too young, as the second act of the Brian Kelly era began. Notre Dame may have lost their starting quarterback, but the rest of the roster is loaded with experience that is still young and hungry.

They say that football games are won in the trenches and if this is true then the Irish are built for success this season. The offensive line is deep, experienced and talented, and it should give Zaire plenty of time to survey the field and distribute the ball to his glut of skill position talent. The anchor of the line is LT Ronnie Stanley, who many think will be a first round draft pick in 2016.

Projected Weaknesses: The Irish defense was stellar for the first five games last year (allowing just 12 ppg) before falling apart down the stretch. The final eight games of the season the lowest amount of points allowed by the defense was 28 and no matter how effective our offense is it is going to be hard to win games knowing you have to score AT LEAST four touchdowns to even have a shot. The defense just has to be better, both with individual play and scheme, in the second year under coordinator Brian Van Gorder.

The defense as a whole has to be better, but this is especially true when it comes to getting pressure on the opposition quarterback. The Irish had just 26 sacks in 2014 and the defensive line must find a way to be more disruptive this fall. Star defensive tackle Sheldon Day (2 sacks) is more of a run stuffer, while it is the ends Isaac Rochell (2.5 sacks) and Romeo Okwara (3 sacks) who need to at least double their numbers if the Notre Dame defensive scheme is going to work.

Prediction: The offense has a chance to be absolutely devastating if Zaire plays how most prognosticators expect. The Irish are deep and they are talented and without Golson making mistakes which gave the opposition short field after short field the defense will be given the opportunity to be much better in 2015. Having said all that, Navy has either beaten, or run the Irish close, six of the last eight years. Notre Dame should win this game, especially as some have them ranked as high as fourth in the country in the preseason polls, but if Keenan Reynolds puts on a Heisman worthy display then anything can happen.

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